The Mayor, Kate Adie and photographer me!
I have written about the run-up events prior to the Festival weekend, in the post on Devonshire Day and also the Immrama Launch party. So regular readers will know about the background already and newcomers can follow the links! Suffice to say in this post that the particular line-up of presenters this year followed an equally illustrious A-list in previous years, as we have had well-known writers in the travel genre in diverse settings since its inception. Some that come to mind are Michael Palin, Brian Keenan, Tim Butcher, Nick Danziger, Robert Fisk, Jung Chang, Charlie Bird, and many more, all over the course of a long weekend in June. There are many fringe events, and these bring a crowd to town, as well as those who come from far and wide for the main Immrama programme.
This year we were privileged to have another great line-up, with a double header for the keynote event as it was impossible to chose one main speaker over another. Kate Adie and Fergal Keane drew a packed auditorium in the Blackwater Community School hall on Saturday afternoon and again on Saturday night. Both spoke eloquently and passionately about their lives and their profession of journalism and reporting from chiefly conflict zones like Iraq, South Africa, Rwanda and other troubled places.
Two Catherines - me and C. de Courcy
They also shared a lot of personal information on their lives and their childhood years, and Fergal read some beautiful poetry that he had never read for an audience before Immrama. This was deeply moving writing, outside the autobiographies that the majority of the audience would have been familiar with, and it is something that Lismore seems to bring out in the speakers. There is invariably an incredible atmosphere in the town during the weekend, and the speakers all seem to love being here, with such a welcoming responsive audience, who really engage with them, and the Q&A session after the talks become a forum for debate and animated discussion. There is usually a book-signing session after the talk, which must lead to writers' cramp but they are invariably patient and attentive to all comers, posing for photos and writing personalised dedications as requested.
All the speakers seem genuinely delighted to get such a warm Lismore welcome and over the years many have favourably compared the reception they receive here with that in other literary festivals. Perhaps that is the advantage of a small festival where we have a good committee, and assign people to hospitality whose role is to ensure that the speakers are well cared for. They were brought to and from the venue, and entertained with trips to the local beauty spots like the Vee where there was time to do so, and then they have a chance to meet the locals in the pub each evening. A different hostelry is designated as the Festival Club each evening, and all repair there for a bit of relaxation, chat and music and "craic". The latter is a peculiarly Irish form of fun, which has nothing to do with mind-altering substances other than that which a drop of alcohol may confer on the imbiber!
Friday was a busy day, with the Bilingual Poetry Workshops in the Lismore Library for three groups of primary school children, and hosted by Irish language poet from An Rinn (Ring), Áine Uí Fhoghlú, who awakened the natural creative spirit of the children in the course of the morning. The WLRFM BlasterCaster van was in town for two days live broadcasting and it gave great publicity locally to the Festival, as they interviewed committee members and presenters throughout both Friday and Saturday.
Rory MacLean in an aerial shot
Fergal Keane enthralling the audience
Friday evening saw another speaker in the Courthouse Theatre, Rory MacLean, a Canadian travel writer now living in Berlin, who has travelled beyond the old Iron Curtain and written a semi-fictional account with characters that may be real or simply based on composite characters...who knows but it makes for fascinating reading! He also wrote about his journeys in Burma, where he met Aung San Suu Kyi, and he travelled from Istanbul to Kathmandhu along the old Hippie Trail, and wrote about it in The Magic Bus. He has a distinctly quirky style and I really look forward to reading his books. This is one of the joys of Immrama, stocking up guilt-free on all the books of the speakers, getting them signed and anticipating the pleasure in reading them over the summer. Luckily Easons are the main sponsor, and as they are Ireland's best-known bookshop they manage to get large stocks of the speakers' books, many of which may have been hard to source otherwise. Another night in the pub, this time Foley's on the Mall, which was packed and the ambience was perfect for the festival weekend.
Jan and me - cameras in tow - posing!
I have already mentioned the main speakers at the start of the post, and Kate Adie and Fergal Keane certainly got a wonderful welcome, and it was a great privilege to meet such iconic journalists and writers who bring the reports of the conflicts of our contemporary world into our living rooms with such integrity.
I still recall watching his Panorama documentary in a refugee area in Western Tanzania at the height of the crisis when someone was sent the video from home. He followed one of the genocidal commune leaders into Benaco Camp in Ngara from the village in Rwanda where he oversaw the massacre in the church at Nyarubuye and it has to be one of the most memorable moments in television documentary history. Justice was eventually done as that leader, and Sylvestre Gacumbitsi was convicted in Arusha on Fergal's evidence. Fergal has Ardmore connections through his grandmother and spends time there every summer with Ann, his wife, and their two children, and many friends came from Ardmore to meet him in Lismore.
Fergal Keane, Jan and me at the book signing
Sunday dawned with the Literary Breakfast in Ballyrafter where Manchán Magan was the speaker. He was very funny, regaling us with tales of his misadventures in Africa when he trucked down the continent in an old ex-army Bedford truck, with a bunch of misfits and escapists who were a far cry from the explorer-type soulmates he'd hoped to meet. He is well-known from his travel programmes on TG4 the Irish-language national TV channel, and has done some great documentaries with his brother Ruán.
Manchan Magan at the Literary Breakfast